By Jessica Allen
Published: Thursday, January 14, 2010
Updated: Thursday, January 14, 2010
Northwestern students with iPhones or iPod touches can now access the campus directory, explore World War II cartography and browse PlanIt Purple events via their mobile devices.
NU recently released a new application called Northwestern Mobile. Users of the software can access eight modules: news, events, maps, directory, library, images, videos and athletics. The full set of features will be available for BlackBerry sometime in February, said Bob Taylor, director for academic and research technologies.
After updating the University Web site this summer, NU started discussing other avenues of communication, said University spokesman Al Cubbage. It just took looking around campus to see the importance of mobile devices at NU, he said.
“Basically, in under three months, it went from being talked about to launching,” Cubbage said.
Input from students, such as Associated Student Government President Mike McGee, is one reason NU decided to create the mobile application, Taylor said.
“(The administration has) been on the same page as far as the initiatives,” the Communication senior said. “I’m excited. I love the athletic app.”
Teams from NU Information Technology, University Relations, the University Library and Blackboard Mobile have worked on the project. In October, NU signed a contract with Blackboard Mobile, which also works with Stanford University and Duke University on mobile applications. On Oct. 21, Blackboard Mobile and NU had their kick-off meeting, Taylor said.
The entire process took nine weeks, said Harlan Wallach, NU digital media architect.
“The idea was to get this version out as is, and then move forward and bring to bear the more powerful tools,” Wallach said.
More than 10,000 images from the library’s database are now available for the mobile application, a figure that will grow in the future, said Stu Baker, an associate University librarian. Eventually, mobile users will be able to access online articles. In addition, a new search system, which will be available on computers at a later date, is being unveiled via the mobile applications. The search system will allow users to find items more directly instead of going through the access points they currently do, Baker said.
Although the application was not formally announced until today, at least 10 people have already reviewed it on iTunes. The reactions are mainly positive, though sprinkled with suggestions for improvement.
One reviewer, called “revap,” applauded NU for catching up to other top-tier schools in releasing mobile applications, but stressed that several additions need to be made, such as GPS tracking for shuttles.
Wallach said there’s a difference between giving information and providing the instant live updates GPS tracking requires.
“This was a rapid development,” he said. “The current eight apps are not representative of the full feature of apps. But it’s going to be iterative.”
NU’s contract with Blackboard Mobile is for three years, and users should expect regular updates of the application, Wallach said.
Wallach added that he expects a Blackboard feature to be available by the end of the year.
Other features in production for the mobile application include the ability to access the course catalogue, drop and add classes and manage student accounts via a WildCARD feature, he said.
“We’re without a doubt moving aggressively toward live feedback,” Wallach said. “In a year, we hope to be in a very different place.”